"What the papers said..." - A selection of reviews of Alan's book from the Music Press by Alan Hewitt.
To balance out the reviews from fans, here is a selection of the reviews which have appeared in the most recent editions of several of the UK's major music magazines...
"Mojo" - August 2000...
Alan Hewitt, Genesis fanzine editor, tells in exhaustive detail the familiar tale of the band's rise: from public school origins via cult success in the Gabriel era to world domination with the 11 million-selling "We Can't Dance". Only then does the public and Phil Collins get bored, and amid wretched ticket sales the entire US leg of the "Calling All Stations" tour is scrapped.
Hewitt sometimes writes in fan speak: e.g. the "legendary band formed by guitarist Anthony Phillips at Hindhead Prep School". Er, not outside Hindhead Prep, I think. But there are good discographies, gig lists, and chapters on each member. There's little musical analysis but you get a list of every known bit of amateur video footage of the band. The book can't tell the wood from the trees, and doesn't care. With Genesis currently in limbo, this may well be the last word...
"Classic Rock" - August 2000...
Even sworn enemies of progressive rock would find it difficult to deny that the Genesis story is a compelling one. After all, this is a band that emerged from the unlikely cloistered environment of a Surrey public school and went on to become one of the leading lights of the 70's progressive rock movement, recording landmark albums such as "Selling England By The Pound" (1973) and "The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway" (1974) in the process.
And yet despite losing not one, but two key members in the space of a couple of years, as firstly vocalist (not to mention focal point) Peter Gabriel, and then guitarist Steve Hackett departed. The group when reduced to a trio proceeded to promote their drummer Phil Collins to the role of frontman and propelled themselves to even greater commercial success in the 80's with records like "Invisible Touch".
Since then, of course, the tale has had further twists with Collins eventually leaving the band in favour of an already hugely successful solo career, while the sole surviving members, Tony Banks and Mike Rutherford, recruited Ray Wilson of Stiltskin to replace Collins. And now the band's career has stuttered seemingly to a halt that threatens to be permanent.
There's a cracking story that spans 30 years, but sadly "Opening The Musical Box - A Genesis Chronicle" is not the book to tell it. The band's entire career is condensed into a potted history of a meagre 50 pages. Indeed from 1979 onwards merits a grand total of just 16 pages. Not that brevity is in itself a bad thing, but this thin tome is strictly factual and offers little or no insight into the dynamics of the band, the music or the individuals behind it.
That said, "Opening The Musical Box..." is not without its merits for Genesis collectors. There are brief sections on the solo careers of each of Gabriel, Hackett, Collins, Banks, Rutherford, and guitarist Anthony Phillips which nicely round out the picture. Similarly there are admirable and exhaustively researched lists of collectible recordings... memorabilia, video and TV appearances as well as a painstaking 60 page gig guide which covers both band and solo live activities.
For the Genesis anorak the book will serve as a valuable work of reference more than anything. But despite his stewardship of The Waiting Room Genesis magazine for the last 12 years, Hewitt is hardly the most gifted of writers and is prone to stating the blindingly obvious without embellishment - take "Bootleg or illegal recordings of music have been around for a very long time" for instance.
Supposedly featuring hours of new interviews but most prominently containing a raft if quotes drawn from previously published materials, "Opening The Musical Box..." adds nothing new to the Genesis canon. Ultimately it is a workmanlike effort which sells a fascinating band short.
(Nick Shilton) * *
"Q" Magazine - September 2000
Despite seeming rather dull on the surface - public schoolboys form band, have hits, recruit bloke from Stiltslkin, have fewer hits - there is a wonderful Genesis tale somewhere. Alas, it's not here. If however, you wish to know what Steve Hackett was doing on June 27, 1976 (entertaining the burghers of Hemel Hempstead as it happens), and should you agree that "Steve Hackett - Live" was a "long overdue live video from the guitar maestro" , then this is the book for you. It comprises gig listings, detailed discographies (Tony Banks has made seven solo albums and "all that remains now is for that elusive hit!"), "a look at some of the more collectable memorabilia" and some details prose (12 pages on the solo career of Anthony Phillips) the sheer dullness of which ("the worrying trend towards rather poor programmes with the 1981 Abacab programme") suggests that a book comprised entirely of lists might have been preferable.
(John Aizlewood) * *
"Guitarist" Magazine - September 2000
Trick of the Tale...
When it comes to collecting information on a band there's nothing better than having the enthusiastic fan take on the job. It needs that type of dedication to see the thing through. The problem is that when a band has as long a history as Genesis, it gets difficult to correlate all the facts so they are easy to interpret.
Fortunately for Genesis fans, the information could not be in better hands, for Alan Hewitt is an enthusiastic and experienced writer; who also produces the excellent Genesis fanzine The Waiting Room. "Opening The Musical Box - A Genesis Chronicle" benefits from this enormously. Everything you could want to know about the band is well presented here. Better still it's a darn good read and that's a welcome change for something this informative. Aimed at long-standing Genesis fans, this book should also be considered a benchmark in this type of publication.
"Record Collector" - Magazine September 2000
While he was sitting in The Waiting Room (the Genesis fanzine), Alan Hewitt has been busy chronicling the life and times of the Charterhouse chaps, and this 250-plus page tome makes for a very informative and cheery read. Not only there are extensive histories of the origins of the band and its many highs and lows through a 30-plus-year career, but there are individual accounts of its key members, bringing the story pretty much bang up to the present day. These are accompanied by excellent discographies, info about screen and bootleg appearances, and there's a mammoth gigography detailing the hundreds of Genesis and related performances over the years.
Among those interviewed for the book are main men Tony Banks, Steve Hackett, Anthony Phillips, Mike Rutherford and Ray Wilson, and while some fans would like to hear Phil Collins and Peter Gabriel give their own in-depth accounts of what went on, there are more than enough facts, figures and anecdotes to keep most Genesis acolytes happy. Contemporary press coverage and analyses of the band's musical and personal development make for interesting reading, there are sections on collectable recordings and memorabilia and lists of fanzines, books and fanclubs. Although it is not the laugh-a-minute study you would expect of say Black Sabbath or Deep Purple, there are amusing interludes - although when I spoke to Steve Hackett recently, he couldn't bring any to mind! - and the text flows assuredly in this tale of the quintessentially English rock band.
"What the writer says..." - A few words from Alan as the writer of this project...
Well, as you can see from the above, feelings about this project are mixed to say the least! I expected to take a few brickbats from the so-called critics along the way and they have had their six pennyworth. However, the opinions of people who have not paid for their copy of the book are, to me at least, of less importance to those from people such as the readers of TWR and others who have shelled out their hard-earned money for a copy. Although that said, some of the criticism from the fans themselves has been almost as dismissive but you paid your money so you are entitled to your say folks, and by God, you have done that in spades I can tell you!
From the standpoint of an author, I take exception to some of the comments from the "professional" critics about such things as my prose style. I have never made any pretence to be anything other than an amateur who wanted to share in the literal meaning of the word my "love" of my subject: the music of Genesis and its associated members. When this project was originally conceived, I realised pretty early on that a biography would not be possible in the detail which such a work merits. Yes folks, I know my own limitations and biographical analysis isn't a great forte of mine and if my prose style doesn't set you alight either, then I am sorry but I do my best! I firmly stuck to what I knew would be the areas where my strengths lay and that is why the book should really be referred to as an "Anorak's Bible" for that is what it was intended as! In fact, that is what I believe has been missing all these years; a gathering of all the facts figures etc about the band and its solo projects in one place and, as I think the majority of the articles above show, that is where I have succeeded, anything else would have been a great bonus but in a work of this size with a limited amount of space, some serious decisions had to be made about what to leave out, what to cut down and what to increase.
The result is a compromise and they never please everybody. Despite some suggestions that it may have been better if I had written this in association with another writer(s) how many books do you know of that are written by a committee? Besides, if you look at the credits you will realise that this project was in fact written by a great number of people, all I did was pull together all that work into a unified whole which I think works and which I hope you enjoy. If not... well you can always write one yourselves, can't you?